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English major is planning to start a new non-profit organization focusing on various outreach initiatives

English major A. J. Ernst ’09 (Lawrenceville, N.J.) is expanding his hometown community service project into Easton. With the help of fellow Lafayette students and many individuals and organizations throughout the area, Ernst is establishing a non-profit organization, “The Community,” in Easton.

With one month between my last class of the spring ’08 semester and the start of my summer job as a camp counselor, my mother urged me to do something constructive with my free time. Because I had spent the past two years as a volunteer tutor while attending Lafayette, I thought I would try to find similar opportunities to help my own community in New Jersey. I found this surprisingly difficult since most underutilized programs had shut down.

I arrived at the local neighborhood center, and was greeted by the exhausted director who was fighting against time and health code violations as recent funding cuts left him without staff members. The food pantry in my town, on which more than 90 families were dependent, was on the verge of being closed. In addition, the director spent days preparing the many bags of food needed for these families without any help. I looked at the situation and could not turn away.

Now it is almost four months later, and the food pantry is operated by a pool of volunteers from the local high school and colleges. The organization I formed, The Community, is now forming partnerships with numerous non-profit organizations such as The Community Blood Council of New Jersey. We are recruiting people to donate blood, and we receive funding from the council. This money goes directly into a fund that pays for jobs created at our neighborhood center. Our membership in The Community has passed 100 individuals, and we are still growing. I cannot wait to see the impact we will have over the course of the upcoming year.

I plan to begin The Community at Lafayette in the same way as in my hometown. After I visited the neighborhood center back home and saw the need for help, I called some of my friends to come over for a BBQ to discuss issues in the town. Discussion is the impetus for action, and it begins with ideas. Once the ideas are out there, it is only a question of motivation.

Easton has become my home over the last few years. After tutoring at Twilight Academy, Shawnee Success Academy, and Shawnee Middle School, I feel extremely connected to the town. The citizens of Easton are trying to revitalize the town, but the city needs Lafayette’s help, and not just in the form of funding.

My first goal is to set a standard, and it will start with my closest friends. As busy as Lafayette students are, everyone has one hour a week to devote to community service. This is my challenge. The Community is about connecting people to projects. The organizations are already in place, and it is time to contribute to their success.

Although not everyone will be able to meet this challenge, some will. It will start small, but it will spread. Policy and funding are inefficient ways to close the achievement gap in most school districts. The students left behind in Easton could be brought up to pace with national standards if Lafayette’s students made a commitment to these young people.

I have had the privilege of watching the results of The Community in my hometown. I sat back one day and watched one of my youngest volunteers carry a grocery bag to an elderly woman’s home. The woman received the food she needed, the high school student, for the first time in her life, felt truly needed, and I watched two individuals who otherwise would have never spoken, have a wonderful conversation. I hope that everyone has the chance to make a difference in another person’s life, for it is the greatest success any individual can achieve.

  • Our City
  • Service Learning
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